Saturday, August 29, 2020

Quintessence by Jess Redman

Synopsis (via Goodreads): Three months ago, twelve-year-old Alma moved to the town of Four Points. Her panic attacks started a week later, and they haven’t stopped—even though she told her parents that they did. Every day she feels less and less like herself.

Then Alma meets the ShopKeeper in the town's junk shop, The Fifth Point. The ShopKeeper gives her a telescope and this message:

Find the Elements.
Grow the Light.
Save the Starling.

That night, Alma watches as a star—a star that looks like a child—falls from the sky and into her backyard. Alma knows what it’s like to be lost and afraid, to long for home, and with the help of some unlikely new friends from the Astronomy Club, she sets out on a quest that will take a little bit of astronomy, a little bit of alchemy, and her whole self.

QUINTESSENCE is a stunning story of friendship, self-discovery, interconnectedness, and the inexplicable elements that make you you.


I received an ARC from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. My thoughts and opinions are my own. Any quotes I use are from an unpublished copy and may not reflect the finished product.

Quintessence was a very science-heavy story that I enjoyed; however, the characters consistently put themselves in dangerous situations, and I really didn't like how unsafe most of their activities were. The author makes it seem like their "quest" was perfectly normal and necessary, but I would freak the F out if my child tried to attempt something similar. 
  1. They lied repeatedly to their parents.
  2. They snuck out of their homes most nights and didn't come back for HOURS.
  3. Got on a suuuper sketchy bus (also in the middle of the night) with a stranger.
  4. Played with fire (what happens when you play with fire?). 
  5. Went into a cavern (also at night) without a map, guide, or any knowledge of what they were doing.
  6. Disregarded the need for sleep, but still seemed functional during the day.
  7. Name-calling (lots of it) that's never really addressed (alluded to, but not addressed).
  8. Played with lightning (what happens when you play with lightning?).
  9. Nearly died SEVERAL times.
Like, I totally understand that this book is fictional, but it rarely felt realistic (and it definitely doesn't set a good example). The characters are in middle school, yet taking risks most adults wouldn't even consider. I know they were trying to save the Starling, and they felt like they were on an adventure, but I disliked how few consequences there actually were. "Alma! You're grounded!" Alma sneaks out again.

I also felt like Alma's parents allowed certain behaviors because of her panic attacks. Additionally, I hated how they constantly told her she wasn't trying hard enough, or that she needed to work on acclimating. Just be there for your kid, you know? At the beginning of the book they were encouraging Alma to make friends, do this, say that... but by the end they were checking her bed every 15 minutes. It was bananas. I also have no idea how they let Alma see a psychiatrist on her own without verifying/vetting the person themselves. It seemed irresponsible for parents that supposedly "cared" so much (especially since the psychiatrist contacted them out of the blue).

I know this sounds super negative, and I didn't start this review thinking it would go this way, but here we are. Clearly, I had more issues with this story than even I originally realized. When describing this book to my husband (he heard us talking about sciency stuff), I recollected the bits about elements and stars, supernovas and quintessence. Those aspects of the story were wonderfully written and really fascinating. However, how the characters applied their knowledge left a lot to be desired. EVERYTHING WAS EXTREMELY UNSAFE.

Furthermore, I couldn't get behind Hugo's random explanations, like "Zonks!" We didn't see enough of his background for his quirks to make sense. I also wanted to know why he looked and sounded like a robot, and what happened between him and Dustin to create such a divide. The author's explanation was very shallow and seemed to be glossed over for the sake of convivence. Additionally, I didn't understand Shirin's reluctance to hang out with/not hang out with her friends. She alludes to not being able to be herself - - or do what makes her happy - - but there's not really an explanation for that either. Dustin is one giant enigma. Trying to find yourself? Really? By being the world's biggest jerkface?

I really liked the concept for this story, but hated how easily everything clicked into place. The ShopKeeper's random appearances, how quintessence actually worked, and how their collection of the elements was supposed to help the Starling. There's a very quick (sort of ) explanation at the end, but after everything the characters went through, I wanted to know more. We (my son and I) deserved better answers.

Example of a confusing explanation: "In each point, there was a symbol— an upside-down triangle with a line through it at the top, a right-side-up triangle with a line through it on the right, a right-side-up triangle at the bottom, and an upside-down triangle on the left. And in the center of the star there was a circle with lines extending from it, like light rays."

Points for having a main character with panic attacks (touching on what those felt like for her, showing how they impacted her life, and how she viewed herself because of them). Points for having a somewhat diverse group of friends. Points for the scientific elements. ZERO POINTS for me having to repeatedly tell my son why he shouldn't try this at home. (★★★☆☆)


  1. Yep its totally normal for your kid to be wandering about round town in the middle of the night!

    I always used to feel the same when my kids where little watching Dora the Explorer and Little Einsteins - I’m sure your parents would be happy you are in a rocket ship!

    1. But it's not totally normal for your kid to roaming around town in the middle of the night! ;) Ah! I hadn't even thought about Dora the Explorer! My kids love that show (despite their RARELY being new episodes online), and it never occurred to me that her parents (or any adults really) were around. I've never seen Little Einstein's!

  2. Whew, sounds like it definitely has some issues. I'm glad parts of the book were good, but that's a bummer all the unsafe things the kids did wasn't addressed and a lot of explanations felt a bit too neat.


    1. You can't have a child GET STRUCK BY LIGHTNING ON PURPOSE, and not address how unsafe that is. Alma was trying to capture the essence of true fire, so she thought lighting was the way to go. She was right, but she almost died trying to get it. If she hadn't been saved by a make-believe creature, she would have DIED. I'm getting frustrated just thinking about it, and that's just one of many examples.


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“Stuff and nonsense. Nonsense and stuff and much of a muchness and nonsense all over again. We are all mad here, don't you know?”
― Marissa Meyer, Heartless